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​Heller’s Mainland impress on and off court

Last year’s finalists are one point clear at the top of the league table after four rounds and impressed to net victory over the previously unbeaten Waikato-BOP last week.

New coach Ronelle van Dongen has also found herself in the spotlight when she assisted a member of the public en route to a Beko League match.

The former Canterbury representative, who worked as a nurse while living in Australia before returning home last year, was with her Mainland team at Christchurch airport preparing to Auckland to take on the Northern Comets when she was involved in a medical emergency.

“We noticed someone had collapsed and so I went to assist,” van Dongen said. “The training just sort of kicks in and fortunately there was also a doctor on hand, but it was reasonably serious.

“I sort of lost track of time but was lucky that my manager and assistant coach were onto it and had grabbed my gear, checked me in and sorted everything. And fortunately our flight had been delayed.”

Her quick actions left an impression on the Mainland netballers who named van Dongen ‘player of the day’ after their Beko League match.

“It was a nice touch,” she said with a laugh. “It’s so easy to get caught up in busy lives so it was actually nice to sit down with the girls and talk about what had happen. It was just a reminder that netball is a sport.”

Now they are back on the road with a trip to Rotorua where they back up against Waikato-BOP, the team they beat by seven goals in Ashburton last week to leapfrog into top spot on the points table.

Van Dongen said she was pleased to see her charges rise to the challenge in a dominating fourth quarter which turned the match on its head.

“We haven’t always been able to run out 60 minutes so it was nice to see the girls do that,” she said. “It was also our first home game and there was a lot of support for us which also made a difference I think.”

But she is expects Waikato-BOP to “come out firing” when they meet again this weekend.

“Competition has been so close between all of the teams which I’ve been really impressed with,” van Dongen said. “This is my first year looking at the Beko Netball League so I’m getting a good look at all of the teams now.”

Van Dongen started coaching in Australia in 2008 and went on to guide the Storm in the national league. She was also assistant coach of the Northern Territory Institute of Sport netball programme and in 2016 achieved the Netball Australia elite coaching accreditation.

But with a young family, the lure of returning home prompted a shift last year which opened up new coaching opportunities.

“It’s been really nice to catch up again with some familiar netball faces and I’ve been enjoying the challenge that comes with the Beko Netball League.”

Meanwhile, in other matches this weekend the Northern Comets are at home to South while Central hosts the Northern Marvels on Sunday.